Marketing to the new healthcare consumer

It used to be simple. Hospital patients took a passive role in healthcare decisions, with physician referrals determining where they went for medical care. But with more care options, changing insurance coverage and a boom in online health information, all that has changed. Now hospital executives have a new challenge to think about: marketing to ‘healthcare consumers.’


Today, patients are shopping for care much the way they do for other retail services. They are actively researching their healthcare alternatives to determine how and where they will spend their care dollars.

Three factors are influencing the healthcare consumer movement:

  • Patients’ increased financial responsibility and exposure make them more discerning and deliberate in healthcare decisions.
  • Internet access to hospital metrics and physician reviews allow patients to review all of their options, shop based on quality outcomes, and get provider recommendations from their social networks.
  • Alternatives to traditional hospital care, such as free-standing specialty care centers, offer consumers benefits such as convenience, comfort and cost savings.

Consumerism’s generation gap

The consumer movement is partly an age-related phenomenon. Each generation of patients has unique emotional triggers and motivations for how they choose care providers. Seniors (age 70+) still follow their doctors’ recommendations, but Baby Boomers (age 45-65) treat healthcare decisions more like consumers: they research their options, challenge assumptions and rely on conversations to make their choices. Young adults (age 20-45) are more inclined to shop around and show preference for healthcare brands; while they won’t admit it, they’re heavily influenced by great advertising, social networks and word of mouth recommendations.

Attracting the healthcare consumer

So how does this affect your hospital? Advertising your organization’s safety and quality outcomes won’t attract patients who are shopping for healthcare brands. To remain competitive, hospitals will be forced to increase investment in direct-to-consumer healthcare marketing of their ‘patient experience,’ especially to recruit younger, brand-savvy patients.

How is your organization responding to the healthcare consumer trend?